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Who is included, who is excluded and what can we do to promote inclusion for all children?

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 10 June 2021

Claire Cameron, Jo Van Herwegen, Mark Mon-Williams, Aase Villadsen.

“Covid 19 constitutes the greatest crisis that high-income countries have seen in many generations,” says UNICEF in its recent analysis. And children “are among those at greatest risk of seeing their living standards fall and their personal well-being decline”.

This, in turn, threatens to broaden the group of children at risk of exclusion – not just for misbehaviour, but because they have needs that are not being met. The danger is that, in the pandemic’s aftermath, we focus on ‘catch up’ learning for the relatively advantaged, and neglect the long-term health, wellbeing, and competency benefits of inclusive education for all students – especially those who are poor and ‘near poor’.

Now is the time to think how we can organise structures, services, and systems in every school so that all children are supported to attend, enjoy coming to school, find it interesting, and the benefits of attendance are understood by children and their families. We need to take stock of who is included, who is excluded, and what we might do to promote inclusion for all.

Exclusion matters to children and their families. Children who are excluded, for whatever reason, are more likely to have a subsequent diminishing commitment to education and reduced social mobility, with long term effects on their employability. Moreover, exclusion is likely to damage mental health. The most commonly cited risk factors for exclusion are usually found in combination, and are concentrated in places of high deprivation. These factors include having a special educational need, mental health problems, a low attainment profile, being bullied, having poor relationships with teachers, being from some minority ethnic groups, or coming from a home background with material disadvantages.

Moreover, the factors causing exclusion start affecting a child’s trajectory from an early age. A recent IOE analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study, as part of an ongoing study exploring ways to avoid exclusion and promote inclusion, showed that primary school interactions at the ages of 7 and 11, were highly significant for predicting exclusion and truancy in secondary school at 14 years of age. Even though there are few exclusions from primary schools, what happens in this period is very important for children’s risk of exclusion at age 14 and for their life chances. This means we need to pay very close attention to whole school inclusion from the early years onwards.

For this study, Wellbeing and Behaviour: Identifying interventions for positive participation for young people at risk of exclusion in school, we analysed the relative importance of a range of factors concerning the social and economic backgrounds of children, as well as individual characteristics such as: gender, health, ethnicity, puberty, special educational needs, child conduct, and emotional problems. While many of these factors were important, what we broadly call ‘school connectedness’ remained a highly significant protective factor. School connectedness is a composite measure of items addressing whether children like school, think it worthwhile, are happy or unhappy at school, and whether they find school interesting. Children aged 7 and 11 who scored low on these items were more likely to be excluded or to be truanting at age 14 than those who scored high.

School connectedness opens up enormous possibilities for schools to intervene early. Millennium Cohort Study analyses show that schools have an important role to play in shaping school engagement when children are as young as seven and all through primary school.

There is an urgent need to support schools in helping shape the child’s perception of school and how it matches their needs and interests. There is also a need to support schools in helping to address the issues that fall outside their gates. The pandemic has opened up new discussions across public services and there are exciting conversations about the potential for multi-agency school based approaches to tackling inequalities. Our work is contributing to this debate by exploring what we can learn from connected longitudinal datasets about the interaction of different factors in determining outcomes for children and young people.

The focus on behavioural miscreants in discussions about exclusion masks the fact that, disproportionately, children with special needs and vulnerabilities are facing multiple barriers to inclusion. During the pandemic, evidence emerged of children with special needs being inadvertently excluded from school. Causes included innumerable practical difficulties relating to transport, staffing and parental perceptions of safety. For example, a survey of more than 220 families of school-aged children with neurodevelopmental and genetic disorders found that only 7% of these children attended school during the UK’s first lockdown (March-June 2020). Research across Bradford (via the Born in Bradford project, which is tracking the lives of >13,500 children as they grow up) revealed that teachers were concerned about the disproportionate effect of Covid-19 on vulnerable children and children with SEND. Key issues included the lack of access to specialist provision such as children’s social services, Speech and Language Therapy and counselling.

How can we reduce exclusion from school – both by removing unintended barriers and decreasing the numbers of children prohibited from entering the school premises? Exclusion, whether permanent, fixed term, or internal, is a marker of social exclusion both as a member of a school community and in terms of future prospects. Exclusion matters to local communities; it is often seen as a primary route to criminal activities in neighbourhoods and by police services.

Data scientists are exploring Millennium Cohort Study and Born in Bradford data to gain a better understanding of the risk and protective factors associated with children’s aspirations and role models. It is our hope that the insights from the data will allow us to provide better support to children within schools – support that can help encourage inclusion.

‘Wellbeing and Behaviour: Identifying interventions for positive participation for young people at risk of exclusion in school’ (PI Claire Cameron, Co-Is Amelia Roberts, Dominic Wyse, Vivian Hill, Jane Hurry, Aase Villadsen, Jo Van Herwegen). More information from c.cameron@ucl.ac.uk

 

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